Last February (2005), a Special Town Meeting was called in West-
ford, MA, to consider the purchase of a 300-acre parcel of land for
$13.5 million dollars. This astonishingly beautiful land, described as
"undisturbed", is made up of eskers and lowlands, ancient evergreens and almost every
deciduous tree known to New England. Steep hills slope down to hold and protect the
pristine waters of Burge's Pond. To add to its splendor, the land is bounded by brooks:
Keyes Brook on the north and Stoneybrook on the south.
When the meeting was called to order, we were astounded and a bit wary of the intent of the huge crowd who filled the big gym where it's often difficult to get the 200-quorum for regular Town Meetings. The usual minutiae and one other article were dealt with and then the Moderator called for a motion on Article 2. The motion for the pur- chase of the land was made. Information, stories of the land, forums, walks and fund raising efforts had preceded the Town Meeting, so, a brief explanation and slide show followed and the Moderator turned back to the motion on the floor. She indicated microphones to be used by those in favor, those opposed and one for questions. We settled back for plaudits and harangues from all those who'd been containing them-selves since the last Town Meeting. From seemingly nowhere, a man stepped forward and said, "Madam Moderator, I move the previous question." (Cutting off all debate.) The Moderator called for the vote on that motion; it passed, with a fair number opposed. Returning to the main motion, she said, "All those in favor of�.the purchase of said land, please signify by saying "Aye." The roar of "ayes" went up, through the ceiling and out into the night sky. "All those opposed�. please signify by saying "No".__________Silence followed. A silence multiplied by 768 people, each one holding his or her breath for the red- tailed hawk, the scarlet tanager, the thrushes, the white-tailed deer, the beavers (the only developers ever on this land), the dragon and damsel-flies, the otters playing in the brooks, the barred and screech owls�.all the ones who make their home on this precious land.
When we grasped what had happened, the room exploded in cheers! New friends were made in the hugging and glee! And, when we walked out into the cold, February night, we knew the root-down-deep joy of being able to protect the home of so many with whom we live and move and share our being "here"; to give the peace that's deserved to this beautiful land by letting it continue "undisturbed".
Photos by Marian Harman
From 1971 to 1980 Mary Tiner and I had the privilege of working with the peasant women of a rural parish in the heart of the
Dominican Republic. We landed there without a plan after some years teaching in
another part of the country. The only thing we were sure of was that we wanted to
work with women.
We began visiting the campos in the
different outlying regions of the parish and heard over and over again the desire of the
women to learn and to organize. Gradually in their own little areas, the women,
neighbours all, started to meet weekly and we led them in discussions about family,
community, basic needs, rural neglect, government policies, human rights, their
rights. As they learned how to speak, how to listen, how to lead, the number of
groups multiplied from three in the first year to 19 nine years later!
their voice had a transforming effect on the women themselves and on their
communities. When they were able to raise their voices in protest, in demand, in
supplication, in pride, they and everyone else knew that they were unstoppable!
In those nine years, approximately 500
women became organized in associations that had as one of their major components
the procurement of the necessities of life for all the campos of the parish of
Cutup�. The other main thrust was the formation of savings and loans cooperatives
among the women of the associations.
In 1984, they decided to incorporate
the many associations into a federation (FECAJUMA) which in turn joined with four other
federations to form a confederation with a membership of hundreds of Dominican
campesinas and campesinos.Courage and commitment have been the hallmarks of the
women of FECAJUMA for over thirty years. The tale of an event which tested these
qualities was related to us by Altagracia Espinal in 2000 when Mary and I were
interviewing the women for a history of the associations.
It became known as "The Bean Story".
Joan: Now, Altagracia, you're the one who knows better than anyone else the story about the beans. We can't leave that one out!
Altagracia: Ah, that was a heavy struggle! It was a life-or-death fight. It happened that after we were organized we formed a group of federations because now, as you know, we have a federation legally incorporated. After founding our federation we joined with four other federations for the struggle.
When it came time to sow the bean seeds, none of the organizations had any seeds because some tricksters took the beans from the Ministry of Agriculture, sold them to the most powerful farmers, cheated us, and left us with nothing. And we said among ourselves, "This year isn't going to be like last year." They had sent us two or three bushels and humiliated us.
How many bushels does the Federation Juana y Maria need? Thirty. How many for Padre Quevero? Twenty. What about Monseñor Panal? Ten. How many does Santa Bárbara need? So many. We were five federations. Altogether we needed so many bushels. We asked the Ministry of Agriculture for that amount and they refused to sell us the beans.
What happened? We said, "This year we'll get our beans by hook or by crook!" So the officers of the five federations met and made a plan.
The five federations would go directly to the Ministry of Agriculture to get our beans. We made an agreement. The Federation Juana y María got trucks, lots of trucks. Each federation found its own vehicles, its trucks, and we all went to the Adult Education Centre in Pont�n. We filled the whole place.
We needed breakfast because we had made a plan to invade the Ministry of Agriculture and stay there until we got our beans. So when we got to Pontòn, we all got out of the trucks and sent to have the people there make us a hot chocolate drink.
They said, "And what are you doing here?" "We're just going to have an activity, we're going on a trip." Whatever. We didn't tell them where we were going because we didn't want the authorities in the Ministry to find out. After we had had our chocolate and bread, we said, "Let's go!"
We all went out in a line. We got into the trucks and turned up at the Ministry of Agriculture. We flooded the yards and the offices. We took over every corner of the building. After we were all in place, the Secretary of Agriculture came out of his office and said, "But first, let's talk."
There was a delegation that was prepared to speak for the federations. So they called us. I was one of the ones who worked on this, to represent the groups. When he called us, the Secretary asked what it was we wanted, and how was it that we did what we had done. He said that we couldn't do such a thing.
We answered that we could because the building belongs to us too because its called Agriculture and we're farmers. And that we were there to demand our rights. "Yes, but you shouldn't do it this way. What is it you want?"
"Look, we need this many bushels of beans."We presented him with a list for 700 bushels of beans. When he saw the list, he got angry and said, "No, look. I just finished sending 100 bushels to Bonao, and I'll get the order stopped and brought back." So he got on the telephone and told them to send the order back.
"Now, you people go back to your area and sow the hundred bushels. I'll even go with you, and then we'll get the rest." We said, "No, we're not going with one seed less than we asked for. So,here we are and we'll spend the night here." And we didn't let any of the workers do any work. Not one secretary picked up a pen at any desk that day. And when we noticed that some people left an office and we needed more members, we ran out and got more. "Look, we need two here. You two get in there fast!" So we put people in. The place was full, completely full!
When it was about four in the afternoon at least, they were calling here, calling there, and every little while calling us to a meeting. Away we'd go! There were three of us: Milagros Díaz from Federation Monseñor Panal, Manuel Mendoza from Federation Santa Bárbara, and myself from the Federation Juana y María. So when it got to be late afternoon, what they wanted was for us to get out of there. They said that they couldn't give us any more than what we had and that they had talked to their superiors and that the higher authorities were going to save the beans we needed to give us later, and that we should go now.
"No, when we have the word of the Minister of Agriculture from the capital, then, yes, if we have his signature and everything." He really should have come to meet with us, but he didn't. They made a commitment with us to send us the rest of the beans. All the authorities from La Vega were there: the police, the army, lieutenants, captains, and everybody was there because this was an unheard of thing. And when these people asked us what was going on, we said, "Nothing, nothing, leave us in peace. We're not doing any harm." So they were very passive with us. They didn't bother us.
People came from Radio Santa María at noon, I remember, and brought us bread and chocolate; this gave us strength to continue. There was a woman who stood out, and she said, "Let's make up some songs to the tune of Al Amanecer!" And everybody started singing that they were going to stay there until dawn, that we wouldn't leave!
An old woman was with us and the lieutenant said to her, "Look, old lady,it's a lieutenant that is speaking to you. I want you to go home. You're very old to be here in this situation. I want you to go back home. What are you looking for here, anyway?" She replied, "No, I'm not going home. Do you want to know what I'm looking for? Beans. It's my beans I'm looking for, to plant them."
Well, when it was almost five o'clock, they did call to say that the rest of the beans were coming the next day, so we left the exact numbers that each federation needed. And the next day, the beans were in each federation. So that was over. That year the people even ate some of the beans because there were too many to plant them all. That was a beautiful triumph that we had as organizations. We really did do some beautiful things!
Mary: Wasn't there a sergeant who said to you, "What are you looking for here? Are you looking for trouble?" And somebody said, "You're the ones with the guns"?
Altagracia: Yes, look. A lot of things happened while we were there that we couldn't keep track of because there were so many people. There were stories on all sides. Before we left that morning, each federation cautioned their people, "Be very careful about violence!"
We wanted it to be peaceful, so that even if they brought in arms, we were not going to move. We were not going to do anything, so that people wouldn't be afraid. But there were so many people -- there were thousands there! They were inside and outside, and we had to be careful not to trample on the flowers. It was marvelous! Yes, there are always people who... there was one man, I think he was from the federation from La Llanada, who wanted to get violent, but we noticed it right away and we called him, "Come here." He was a young fellow, because hotheads join groups, too. "Come here. You're with us so you have no right to get us in trouble. You're getting violent." He was angry at one of the soldiers who was there, and we told him no, to stop that. We told him that we had prepared our people to be non-violent.
In the end, there were little problems like that, but nothing major happened to us. They simply had to respect us and give us our beans.
I say NO to war. In every
way I can, wherever I am. This ground of dissent is so deeply embedded within my Being
that were I to do otherwise it would eat away at my very sense of self. Perhaps it is part
of the DNA I received from my father, who worked in high level positions within the U.S.
government, positions where decisions to make war, drop bombs, create global havoc were
made during the 1940s and into the early 1970s. His focus was the world and so is mine.
He's dead now but I sometimes wonder if my strong commitment to peace is his legacy to me;
maybe he wants one of his daughters to pay back what he was part of taking away. I do know
I got his bull-headed determination and it has served me well in this ongoing work for
The photograph was taken of me in solitary protest in front of the White House on September 5, 2002. This has become a tradition with me when I visit my mother in Washington, DC during times that require active dissent. Certainly the Bush administration's determination to totally destroy Iraq and its people counts as such a time. My first such demonstration came in relation to Iraq as well.
In March 1991 I went directly from National Airport to the White House with my hand-drawn poster in a plastic bag. It was from a series of pen-and-ink drawings I'd created during the massacre they called the Gulf War. The image was of a child crying on his mother's shoulder as she and other women fled across the desert. The quote was from the Old Testament: "Listen, the cry of the daughter of my people sounds throughout the land."
The Secret Service took my name and address and told me I'd have to keep walking if I wanted to demonstrate in front of the White House. And so I did. And so I do.
I say YES to women wonderful, loving, supportive, celebrating women. My sisters with whom I circle and sing. My sisters who crowned me with beauty on my 60th birthday. My sisters who stand at my side in the hard times, out on cold streets saying no to war, fighting to sustain the earth, our home. What would I do and who would I be without their strength, passion, sense of play, commitment, vision and creative fire? I cannot imagine. I would certainly not be able to stand strong in my dissent if I did not know they were at my side, our hearts beating as one.
Women are the breath of my being and the wings on which I soar. Gratitude is the assent I make to the women in my life.